Speed excites, but how about cool, tight storage?

In 2011, Fusion-io disrupted the enterprise storage industry with their high-performance PCIe flash memory cards. EMC responded this week announcing its own VFCache product.  Suddenly there is a hotly contested race and  it’s up to the rest of the industry to respond.

I love going fast on bikes and skis, but fast is a relative thing. There are always people who will go a lot faster than me, but I don’t need to keep up with them to be happy. The same is true for driving – I drive a 4-cylinder Ford Fusion because I love Sync and I don’t care if it’s not fast.

Cold will be hot

The “good enough for me” principle works for storage too. Most companies have a lot of data that doesn’t need high performance I/O. Server flash products address the hottest data a company has, but what about all the “cool” or “cold” data that is infrequently or never accessed? It typically occupies storage systems that were built to compete based on performance. Even the lowest-performing tiers of most enterprise storage systems significantly over-serve customers by providing service levels far beyond what is needed.  At some point another industry disruption will occur as new products emerge that significantly reduce the cost of storing cool data.

A difficult problem for storage administrators is that there is no way to separate cool data that will be accessed again in the future from cold data that will never be accessed again. One approach is to archive cool data to tape, but the delays and difficulties in locating and restoring cool data when it reheats are not all that comforting. Another approach is to send cool data to an online cloud storage tier provided by enterprise vendors such as Microsoft, Amazon, Rackspace, AT&T, and HP. Cool data in the cloud that reheats is transparently moved back to a local, warmer tier until it cools off again. Data stored in a cloud tier does not require the power, cooling and footprint overhead of data stored in the corporate data center storage and it also reduces the cost and impact of storage system end-of-life events.

"Tight" storage looks good

But cloud storage tiers are not the whole answer. Customers will want to ensure that cool/cold data doesn’t consume any unnecessary storage capacity.  Cloud storage products that incorporate the various forms of data reduction technologies such as thin provisioning, deduplication and compression will provide the “tightest” fit for this data by running at capacity utilizations that are unheard of with primary enterprise storage today. In addition to saving customers on storage costs, these products will also increase the return on investment by saving customers on bandwidth and transaction costs that some cloud service providers charge.  Keeping a tight grip on storage expenses will become synonymous with using the tightest, most efficient cloud-integrated storage systems.